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Prop Hate and My Family

BY John Ireland

Last Labor Day, my partner and I were legally married in California. Two months later, 52 percent of Californians voted to take our marriage rights away.

Between June and November, more than 18,000 same-sex couples were married in the state. The legal validity of those unions is now in question.

The majority of voters in Arizona and Florida also chose to deny marriage equality to same-sex couples, but one of the most egregious decisions came in Arkansas, where voters banned unmarried couples from fostering or adopting children.

My partner of 15 years and I adopted our son in 2005. More than 500,000 American children languish in our foster system, and gay and lesbian people are increasingly playing a crucial role as caregivers and as parents.

Laws that seek to prevent gays and lesbians from parenting are cruel. First, they harm children who are growing up in foster homes or orphanages, many with little hope for a stable home life. Second, such legislation disenfranchises families that are already being led by gay and lesbian parents. By making it hard for us to legally protect our families, these laws stigmatize our children.

Children who come into “the system” need consistency and love. Skilled and dedicated foster parents are the child’s best bet for stability, but a shortage of qualified foster parents imperils this reality. By excluding gays and lesbians, our most vulnerable children suffer.

Opponents of marriage equality do not want gays and lesbians to become parents, but they are too late. According to the National Adoption Clearinghouse, gay and lesbian parents in America are raising an estimated 8 million to 10 million children.

Raising kids is difficult. All parents want to explain the world to their children and teach them how to contribute as productive citizens.

Many parents tell their children they can grow up to be president some day. We are thrilled that our son will grow up with President-elect Obama as a positive black role model.

But this recent election has also left us with mixed messages for our son. Through the statewide referendums, society is telling him that we are not a family.

Obama has pledged to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would, “ensure that the 1,100-plus federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally recognized unions.”

Most of the rights, benefits and responsibilities that come from marriage include family and medical leave, Social Security and tax benefits, and equal access to a spouse’s health insurance coverage. With marriage, gay and lesbian partners are guaranteed hospital visitation and next-of-kin status for emergency medical decisions or wrongful death suits. These rights also allow for joint parenting rights, including access to school records and, in the case of separation, custody and visitation.

No matter what individual states offer, these rights and responsibilities are conveyed on a national level only by the federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Massachusetts has offered same-sex couples the right to marry since 2004, and Connecticut began doing so in November. Nine states and the District of Columbia offer civil unions or domestic partnerships. And the sky hasn’t fallen.

Two days after California’s Proposition 8 passed, I marched with a few thousand other Californians to protest the decision. I hadn’t planned on marching, but I needed an outlet for my frustration. We marched through the streets, carrying signs, chanting, smiling and waving. Some commuters honked their horns in support. Others, not so much.

It was heartening to see our many allies, and almost as gratifying to see eye to eye – for a change – those who oppose our equal rights.

The next morning at work, a colleague said to me, “I support your rights, but my husband was caught in traffic for an hour. We didn’t even have dinner as a family until 8:30 p.m.!”

The phrase “as a family” stuck with me. This is a reasonable person, a friend, who does not see my life – the fight for my family – the same as I do.

Absent federal action, we cannot win equal protection for our families. Like with so many crises in our nation’s history, I have faith that there is a uniquely American solution. I have to believe that, with our new leadership, we will find it together.

John Ireland covers progressive politics and social dynamics in the United States, exploring "democracy in action." He has been published in numerous periodicals, including Newsweek, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Baltimore Sun and the Advocate.

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